RICHMOND — Initial construction will begin next month on the Blue Grass Army Depot site where mustard-agent rounds will be exploded inside a steel detonation chamber.
The site is next to the pilot plant that will eventually rid Madison County of nerve-agent munitions.
The Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection gave temporary authorization in August that allows site preparation and road improvements to begin, said Craig Williams, executive director of the Chemical Weapons Working Group, a Berea-based organization.
That authorization also allows utilities installation as well as construction of a support building and a control room building, said Jeff Brubaker, site project manager. Brubaker and Williams gave an update Tuesday at a quarterly meeting that addresses issues surrounding the destruction of chemical weapons.
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The authorization does not allow construction of an enclosure building that will house the stainless steel containment vessel where the blister agent would be destroyed.
The final application of a permit must be submitted by Blue Grass Army Depot to the state. The state will then issue either a draft permit or a notice of intent to deny, and that will start a 45-day public comment period.
The detonation vessel to be used in Madison County is being fabricated in Sweden, where it will undergo testing. It will then be disassembled and shipped to Madison County for on-site testing.
If the state approves, the first mustard rounds will be destroyed in 2017, Brubaker said. The larger pilot plant next door won't begin destroying nerve agents until 2020, according to an official timeline.
Detonation of the mustard rounds is necessary because X-rays confirmed in 2011 that there was a solidification of agent in a significant number of 155mm projectiles. That renders them unsuitable for robotic disassembly and processing in the pilot plant. Trying to remove the mustard agent by hand poses a greater risk than exploding the rounds in steel vessel.
More than 15,000 mustard projectiles are stored at Blue Grass Army Depot south of Richmond. The agent was made from 1941 to 1943 in Maryland and has been in storage at the depot since then.